THE WISDOM OF A FULL CREED
D. M. PANTON, B.A.
Doubtless, if a man holds some truths of the Christian Faith, and yet is doubtful of others, he is wise if at least he makes the most and the best of what he does hold. But there is another truth drastically more important. In a revelation from God, which is necessarily coherent and consistent, to accept any of it produces an overwhelming obligation, an irresistible reason, for accepting all of it. An Agnostic said recently :- "It is useless to discuss the other miracles; the one question is, Did Christ rise from the dead? If so, all the others are true: if not, the Bible must go, and Christianity must go." If a b c are correct, then x y z are dead sure. The arithmetical table cannot be right in parts, and wrong in parts: if twice two make four, it is certain that ten times ten makes one hundred. If we have vital hold of some truths, in a revelation from God which constitutes a perfect orb, every moment we continue doubting other truths in that revelation is a moment lost, an opportunity gone, a life mutilated and mauled.
When by reason of the time" - the lapse of years since conversion - "ye ought" - for you might - "to be teachers" - so grounded, so passionately convinced, so masters of the truth as to be imparting it to others - "ye have need again that some one teach you the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God" (Heb. 5: 12). It is startling to learn that all believers ought, in time, if not to be actual teachers, at least to be capable of teaching. The Hebrews’ pitiable condition of impotence can be the miscarriage of a lifetime. An aged minister, pacing his room in profound agitation, exclaimed:- "Would to God I might have once again the years that are gone!" Needing their alphabet afresh - how pitiable! years of possible helpfulness to others irretrievably gone - how tragic! Not to grow in mastery of the Oracles of God is to be in peril of losing their very rudiments. All truth is so inter-locked, and elementary truth is so dependent on its far vaster setting, that they who preach the Gospel only will soon have no gospel to preach. Possibly thousands unblessed through us, who might have been, is a heavy price to pay for a meagre creed and a halting life.
Paul suddenly stumbles on a painful difficulty in getting a truth home, and his difficulty at once reveals the peril of a mutilated creed. "
But the effect on character is no less grave as the fruit of a stationary experience. "Ye are become" - for they were not always so: early advances, alas, can prove deceptive - "such as have need of milk" - in chronic babyhood - "not of solid food." * A cradle infant has all its food provided, with no effort of its own; and its food requires only the most rudimentary powers of assimilation and digestion; but in the adult, nature demands much more powerful digestive faculties, solids not liquids, discrimination as to what we do eat, and labour to get it. The parallel is exact. The spiritual infant merely absorbs, and absorbs indiscriminately; but a grown believer must have stronger food, for stronger faculties, and selected food; and the believer who does not forage for his food, starves; and foodless character, fed on elementals, becomes, in God's sight, no less a monstrosity than an infant never grown, a baby in arrested development and mental deficiency. A whole Bible is needed for a whole character.
[*It is very noteworthy that it is by their unresponsiveness to a type - Melchizidek as a forecast of Christ - that their babyhood is betrayed.]
But perhaps the most serious danger of all still remains, especially for days of deepening error such as the modern age. "Everyone that partaketh of milk is without experience of the word of righteousness"; undisciplined, undeveloped, unmellowed; "but solid food is for those who by reason of use" - by the skill and pliability that comes from habit - "have their senses exercised to discern good and evil." Such alone have their spiritual faculties so sharpened, their rational powers so constantly in use, as to be able to analyze swiftly and correctly, and to form a sound judgment. It is a holy sensitiveness to sin, springing from a close knowledge of the mind of God, and a constant practise of the light, which alone can make a soul a safe leader, and a perfected man.*
[* This also supplies our required revelation on the literature we should read. If babes, solid theology will only choke us (Rom. 14: 1); and if our faculties lack all power of wise discrimination, nothing should be read but has been censored as purely Scriptural and only Scriptural. But senses exercised "to discern good and evil" reveal a higher ideal. The ideal for the Christian student (and incidentally for the Christian reviewer) is not to draw up an ever-expanding Index Expurgatorius, and a sharply narrowed selection of literature; but rather, with acute senses and accurate judgment, to sift and weigh, finding jewels even in a swine's snout. The ideal Christian teacher, on the other hand, is the man who enunciates - always and everywhere and only - what is foursquare with Scripture.]
Now therefore the ground is cleared, and we see the extraordinary wisdom of a full creed. After a foundation is once laid, further foundation-laying is tragic waste. "Wherefore" - all alive to these dangers - "let us cease to speak of the first principles of Christ, not laying again [their] foundations." All foundation truths we carry with us to death; but we cease (except to unbelievers) to speak of them. We ‘leave’ the Christian rudiments in the sense that a tree leaves its roots, a composer his scales, a scholar the alphabet, a house its foundations, a mathematician the multiplication table: we assume, but ignore - for our purposes of riper study - the simple elementals of the Gospel. We are not to forget them, so as to have to learn them all over again; nor to doubt them, so as to have to believe them afresh; nor to forsake them, so as to have one day to take them back with shame; but, ceasing to speak of first principles, we concentrate life and heart on reaching the perfection beyond.
So now on the horizon rises a Matterhorn that outsoars all byhood. "Let us press on" - in an unceasing pressure - "unto PERFECTION." ‘Perfect’ is that which corresponds to its ideal: as rudiments, or roots, imply the tree, as the foundation implies the palace, so the ‘beginnings’ are a God-made start for the ‘end,’ which is perfection. Perfection the bud become a rose; * the faculties of the raw convert matured into trained and constant activity; the latent possibilities in every disciple, full-orbed. Comprehension of Christian knowledge; maturity of Christian experience; completeness of Christian activity; ripeness of Christian character:- in Paul's words elsewhere - "not that I already obtained, or am already made perfect ; but I PRESS ON toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3: 12).
[* It is not sinlessness, for A rose is no longer a bud, but it may have more than one very faulty petal.]
But the Apostle is still so profoundly uneasy, so conscious of the fearful perils of stagnation, that, still having the sharpest arrow of all in his quiver, he once more, and for the last time, warns. "Let us press on: for it is impossible to renew again unto repentance" an apostate. He suddenly opens a gulf of horror at our feet. It is an extraordinary revelation. To rest on repentance and faith, baptism in and the baptism of the Holy Ghost, the glories of resurrection, and eternal life - to rest on these, and these alone, is actually to be in danger of apostasy. The repose, with folded hands, on the ‘simple gospel,’ or even, as here, a good deal more than the ‘simple gospel,’ imperils even that Gospel itself; and the sluggish, self-complacent, unconsciously starved soul at any moment go over the precipice. To shrink back from apostolic perfection is to endanger even apostolic first principles. Press heavenward, says the Apostle, lest you fall hellward.
So, therefore, the Apostle includes himself in a wise, humble, cautious resolution for the highest : "and this we will we do, if God permit." If God permit, for even now our avenue to perfection may at any moment be rudely and abruptly closed: if life be spared, if opportunities be granted, if grace be given, we shall press on. Creed and character and power to bless are all constituents of an organic whole that blossoms together, or withers together. Press on, for it is an opportunity which angels must envy: press on, for there are vacancies in the star-crowned ranks of glory: press on, for time is the shape in which we are moulding our eternity: press on, for the angel of death will soon be shaking out the last sands in hour-glass: press on, for while it may cost us a broken heart, it will win us an immortal crown.
Just a few more miles, beloved!
And our feet shall ache no more;
No more sin, and no more sorrow -
Hush thee, Jesus went before:
And I hear Him sweetly whispering -
"Faint not, fear not, still press on,
For it may be ere to-morrow
The long journey will be done.
- Margaret E. Barber.